Shipping Alliances Drop Hundreds of Asia-North Europe Port Calls Due to Congestion

FILE PHOTO: A Cosco Shipping vessel is moored at PSA's Pasir Panjang container terminal in Singapore September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

Nearly a quarter of the scheduled port calls of Asia-North Europe alliance loops were omitted in the past five months, according to an Alphaliner survey.

The consultant found the three alliances had cancelled 383 calls during the period, attributed to port congestion, throwing the supply chains of thousands of shippers into disarray.

Importers have found their containers off-loaded at ports not in the original shipping plan and subjected to lengthy and fragmented relay services, while exporters have seen their cargo stranded at ports for weeks awaiting the next available sailing.

Moreover, some scheduling changes are being made last minute by the alliances, after discussion with operations centres around the world, and often without the correct level of communication with customers – sometimes even omitting to promptly inform the local country agents.

Alphaliner said it had identified three reasons for the port omissions: an ad-hoc omission to limit delays; temporary removal of a call for a number of weeks; and blank or ‘sliding’ sailings where the alliance pushes a voyage back a week.

It found THE Alliance members were blanking more voyages than 2M or Ocean Alliance partners, a consequence of THEA’s strategy to maintain the majority of its pro forma calls in North Europe. It noted that six out of its 22 sailings during the survey period were cancelled due to the much longer round-trip voyage times of its ships.

Nevertheless, in a recent straw poll of The Loadstar shipping contacts, most were in favour of carriers maintaining their calls at scheduled ports where possible, in order to mitigate supply chain disruption.

The top three North European container hubs, Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg, were the biggest losers, missing 216 alliance calls during the five-month period, a combined reduction of 25%, according to the survey, while the UK’s biggest port, Felixstowe, suffered the biggest reduction in calls on Asia loops, losing a third of its scheduled 154 visits.

Elsewhere in the UK, Southampton saw its 66 pro forma calls fall to 50, while London Gateway’s calls fell 27%, to 32.

“The terminal operated by DP World has not been able to benefit from the congestion problems in other UK ports as it has done in the past,” said Alphaliner, noting that the visit of the 23,964 teu HMM Gdansk in the first week of July was the only unscheduled call during the period. No doubt the acute shortage of haulage in the UK had some impact on the ability of London Gateway to accept additional ships and/or the willingness of carriers to consider the facility as an alternative.

Meanwhile, on the plus side, Alphaliner recorded 77 extra inducement calls by the three alliances, the majority of which were made at the smaller ports of Wilhemshaven (24), Bremerhaven (16), Le Havre (11) and Zeebrugge (8).

Additionally, Alphaliner said, the 2M partners, Maersk and MSC, had made “an extra effort to guarantee sailings ex-Gdansk, Gothenburg and Aarhus”.